Title: Doctor Sleep
Author: Stephen King
Narrator: Will Patton
Audiobook Length: 18 hours, 35 minutes
Origins: Mine. All mine.
Release Date: 24 September 2013
Bottom Line: Even better than The Shining!
“On highways across America, a tribe of people called The True Knot travel in search of sustenance. They look harmless—mostly old, lots of polyester, and married to their RVs. But as Dan Torrance knows, and spunky twelve-year-old Abra Stone learns, The True Knot are quasi-immortal, living off the “steam” that children with the “shining” produce when they are slowly tortured to death.
Haunted by the inhabitants of the Overlook Hotel where he spent one horrific childhood year, Dan has been drifting for decades, desperate to shed his father’s legacy of despair, alcoholism, and violence. Finally, he settles in a New Hampshire town, an AA community that sustains him, and a job at a nursing home where his remnant “shining” power provides the crucial final comfort to the dying. Aided by a prescient cat, he becomes “Doctor Sleep.”
Then Dan meets the evanescent Abra Stone, and it is her spectacular gift, the brightest shining ever seen, that reignites Dan’s own demons and summons him to a battle for Abra’s soul and survival. This is an epic war between good and evil, a gory, glorious story that will thrill the millions of hyper-devoted fans of The Shining and wildly satisfy anyone new to the territory of this icon in the King canon.”
Thoughts: If anyone expected Danny Torrence to live happily ever after upon leaving the Overlook Hotel, Doctor Sleep puts those ideas to rest almost immediately. Danny may have left the hotel but demons continue to haunt him well into adulthood. His story is not an easy one to experience, nor is it a very happy one most of the time. He has seen too much at too young an age, and more importantly, he has never quite gotten over his childhood adoration and fear of his father. If Doctor Sleep is the story of Danny Torrence, it is his journey for redemption and peace after his tumultuous childhood.
However, Doctor Sleep is not just about Danny, or Dan Torrence as he is now known. There is a new evil threatening the lives of children. The True Knot feasts on children with Dan’s special abilities. Rather, they feast on the essence of these children, the shining which makes them special and rare. They harvest this essence through fear and pain, the explanation of which will curdle a reader’s stomach and leave them with nightmares. They may look and sound harmless, but The True Knot is pure evil.
Connecting Dan with The True Knot folks is Abra Stone. She is a remarkable girl not only because her shining is vastly superior to anyone else’s but because in spite of what she can do and what she has seen, she remains sweet, cheerful, and a quintessential girl. Her ability allows her to reach out to Dan across miles, the shining connecting them in mind and spirit and providing some much-needed understanding and comfort to them both. Dan’s relationship with Abra is at once heartwarming and bittersweet as he works feverishly to protect Abra from a similarly tainted childhood as his own. In a story that is relentlessly intense and frightening, Dan and Abra provide readers with a much-needed break from the terror, even while they move ever closer to tangling with The True.
Mr. King has a way of taking an innocuous word and giving it an insidious meaning which will haunt readers for weeks, months, and even years to come. It is a quirk of Mr. King’s to do this with a word or two, but it is so effective a method by which to add a layer of fear and dread that fans never mind the redundancy it can create. In Doctor Sleep, those words are steam and RVs. Both typically harmless, one a physical state of water and the other a very popular form of transportation, they become something more in Mr. King’s world. RVs no longer harbor the harmless, and steam is not nearly as simple as science teachers explain it to be. Readers will think twice about passing an RV on the highway, wondering who – or what – is driving it. They are no longer the charming but annoying ultimate vacation vehicle but rather a symbol for anyone who is trying to hide in plain sight. As for steam, it will forever have a dual meaning, much like shining does in the King canon.
Will Patton is absolutely outstanding as the narrator of Doctor Sleep. He moves between voices, both feminine and masculine, young and old, with skill. His voices add to each character’s complexity as he adopts each person’s mannerisms and mindset as his own. He also has a way of aging his voice which is quite impressive, reserving the gravelly notes for the drunk, the high, wavering whine for the elderly, and the smooth clarity for the middle-aged. As he also convincingly portrays Abra from before she can speak until she is a teenager, it is a truly remarkable feat. His ability to channel each character and bring them to life makes Doctor Sleep a thrilling and sometimes absolutely terrifying auditory experience.
While The Shining is a fantastic story on its own, Doctor Sleep proves that Mr. King is a much stronger writer now than he was then. Everything about Doctor Sleep is crisper, more coherent, and scarier. His characters have a depth to them that is missing in the first story; even the individual members of The True Knot have a backstory and personality. The Shining’s ghostly baddies are much more understated and one-dimensional, still scary but not quite as real as Rose the Hat or Crow Daddy. Doctor Sleep is a fantastic example of Mr. King’s ability to tell a complex, horrifying, and still entertaining story that readers will never forget.